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THE REFLECTOR.

[No. XVIII.]

ON CRITICISM.
First follow nature, and your judgment frame
By her just standard which is still the same;
Unerring nature, itill divinely bright,
One clear, unchang'd, and universal light,
Life, force, and beauty must to all impart,
At once the source and end, and test of art.

POPE.
THE
"HE term Criticism conveys a degree of terror to

vulgar ears. It is imagined to be a mysterious something, severe in the extreme. Many persons shrink away from it, as from the ghosts and apparitions of former days. Its look scarifies, its touch is death. But wherefore these terrible ideas of an art, innocent in its nature, and useful in its operation ? By no one should true criticism be feared. Her province is to enlighten and reform human genius. She prescribes rules of writing dictated by wisdom, the observance of which enables the author to instruct and meliorate mankind with a more sovereign efficacy. Criticism, divested

of its technical notions, and applied to the estimation of good writing, is founded on experience. It is not the result of arbitrary determination. It is not the product of caprice and whimsicality. No; true criticism confifts of rules legitimately ascertained, from contemplating the works of others which have borne the test of public opinion. Feeling that propriety and beauty arose from certain arrangements and combinations, this disposition of things passes into an established rule not to be violated with impunity. This is the most natural account of Criticism under whatever forms it may be considered. Let this representation of its origin be carefully remembered. It will affist us in forming a just idea of a subject, possessing no mean rank in the republic of letters.

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To illustrate the preceding observation, an instance has been taken from “ Aristotle's rules concerning the unity of action in dramatic and epic composition. They were not rules first discovered by logical reasoning, and then applied to poetry ; but they were drawn from the practice of Homer and Sophocles ; they were founded upon observing the superior pleasure which we receive from the relation of an action which is one and entire, beyond what we receive from the relation of scattered and unconnected facts.” But it may be asked concerning the rules of Criticism, Is an author to keep them conftantly in view ? Must they be to him what the beacon is to the mariner ? Is he never to lose sight of them? To these queries it is replied, That this servile attention is by no means necessary. We wish not to load a writer with trammels. We want not to hamper his genius. But in composition, we expect that he will not overleap the boundaries which experience and good sense have wisely prescribed.

An eminent genius will write intuitively according to these rules, though with an irregularity that is oftentimes the parent of blemishes. The diversity of the hu. man mind is astonishing. Some intellects will at once perform what other intellects can never be brought to accomplish. Writers of abilitý launch forth into their subjects with such energy, that they will not suffer any rules to operate for the regulation of their excursions. Many beauties, therefore, are thus snatched beyond the reach of art. Yer as to these writers it must be con. fessed that an attention to the established canons of criticism would prove highly serviceable to them. It would heighten their beauties, diminish their blemishes, and Aling over their whole production an inimitable grace, easier to be conceived than described.

Shakespeare, it has been often said, pleases in spite of his irregularities. And for what realon? Because his beauties are so exquisitely charming, that they compensate for his other defects. We are enraptured with him, not on account of his blemishes, but because they are greatly outweighed by the beautiful parts which accord with those found rules of writing which criticism hath prescribed. The justness of his sentiments, the fimplicity of his language, the strokes of pafsion, and the lively delineation of character must impress every mind. From such composition no reader of discernment can withhold his tribute of applause.

The imperfection of human genius renders rules highly necessary for the perfecting of composition. Without some itandard we are at a loss how to form an equitable judgment of what is presented to our attention. Except some guide be held forth to us, we are out at sea, wandering in the wide and track lefs ocean. But with a chart and compafs we know our situation, and can ascertain the port whither we are defined. It is with literature as with every thing else, some settled laws must be established. What has most generally been found to please, and amongst persons molt capable of making a just estimation, is the only rule which can be laid down for the production of fimilar beauties. The first writers could have no such rules, but when once they had exhibited to the world those beauties generated by the native energy of their minds, which have charmed mankind, then their successors gathered from their productions the rules necessary to be ubserved. It was a work of time and labour. But once ascertained, let us seriously attend to it.

Every thing in nature and art must be judged by the rules of good sense, aided by the advantages of a welldirected education. Avoiding, however, fervility in the imitation of others, we should never suffer taste to prevail at the expence of judgment. Of the diversity of opinions respecting literary topics, we are apprised. For a time, compositions may be popular where there is no just ground for approbation. "Parties in religion or politics may impart to certain productions an importance which otherwise could not have been obtained. But

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when the clouds of prejudice pass away, the merits of the work will be considered. By its intrinsic value alone will it rise or fall. So true is the remark of Cicero :* Time overthrows the illusions of opinion, but eftablishes the decifions of nature.”

Aristotle and Longinus are the two master critics of antiquity. From their writings have been derived those rules of judging which have suffered little or no aitera. tion by the lapse of ages. The former, in particular, has by the comprehensiveness of his mind, and by the acuteness of his genius, traversed the whole circle of human knowledge. Into almost every subject has he pryed with an eagle eye. Few topics has he left untouched. The very recent translation of his writings by Dr. Gillies, merits from every studious mind particular attention.

Pope's Essay on Criticism should not be unnoticed in the discussion of the present subject. With its contents most of our readers, we doubt not, are acquainted. The young writer will derive considerable advantage from ihe attentive perusal of it. “It is a work,” said Dr. Johnson, " which displays such extent of comprehension, such niceties of distinction, such acquaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both of ancient and modern learning, as are not often attained by the maturest age and longest experience.” Yet was it among his early compofitions.

We conclude this RefleEtor by remarking, that true Criticism, and an amiable candour, are closely allied.Lorenzo de Medici, an eminent genius of modern times, being present when the character of a celebrated music cian was the subject of censure, observed to his detractors :-" If you knew how difficult it is to arrive at excellence in any science, you would speak of him with more respect." Severity is abhorrent from the nature of the genuine critic. With the difficulty of producing what is really excellent he is not unacquainted. Over the midnight lamp has he ruminated for the acquifition of knowledge, and with a tremulous hand has he marked Vol. IV,

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the beauties of the authors passing bencath his review. For young writers he therefore makes due allowance, severe only to arrogant stupidity, or disgusting conceit.

The amiable youth he takes by the hand, and leads him gently on to the artainment of his willies. Such a mode of Criticism begets love wherever it is exercised. It enlarges the human mind, invigorates its best powers, and prepares it for its noblest exertions.

In our next Volume (each of which consists of four Numbers)

the Reflectors will contain a Survey of Homer's lliad, Virgil's Eneid, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Thompson's Seasons.

,

ON INNOCENCE.
Sweet INNOCENCE! Thou stranger to offence
And inward storm! He who yon sky involves
In frowns of darkness, cver smiles on thee
With kind regard.

THOMSON. HE greatest bleffing of which man can be possessed, is

condition of life, it possesses the most attractive charms, and produces the most cordial satisfaction. Its pleasures are lasting and stable. The man who seeks happiness in any other

way, must in the end feel himself fatally dilappointed. A transient glow of satisfaction, while engaged in his favourite pursuits, he may indeed feel; but no sooner does he allow himself an hour of calm, sober reflection, than disappointment and sorrow arise in his bofom, as the effects of his perverted choice.

The pleasures of sensuality are more violent and pointed, but those of Innocence more tranquil and solid. The former, on this account may be expected to find a greater number of votaries, among gross and vulgar minds, who possess not fortitude to perform the duties

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